The Three Mile Island of Off-Shore Drilling
On March 16, 1979, The China Syndrome opened in theaters across the country. I was actually in line to buy tickets for that movie when I first heard of the nuclear incident at Three Mile Island. The problems at Three Mile Island, in Harrisburg Pennsylvania, occurred 12 days after the opening of the movie. At one point in the movie, a physicist states that the china syndrome would render “an area the size of Pennsylvania” permanently uninhabitable.
The nuclear energy industry was already under great pressure from environmental groups, but the Three Mile Island incident put it is a coma. Then, in 1986 the disaster at Chernobyl, in the Ukraine occurred, and that made new projects in the U.S. completely impossible.
Not that caution was inappropriate. After those two incidents, it was only reasonable to step back and consider whether nuclear power was really safe. Nothing is ever guaranteed, of course, but it does not make sense to endure anything but the remotest risk of a serious nuclear accident.
Over the years, new safeguards have been put in place. Today even anti-nuclear environmental groups don’t generally raise concerns over plant safety; the concern over radioactive waste and its safe disposal is the primary issue.
Unprecedented Disaster – President Obama visited the gulf this week-end and called the oil spill situation a “potentially unprecedented disaster”. Unfortunately, this is not an exaggeration. See here.
The environmental record of offshore drillers had been outstanding – not only off the U.S. coast, but around the world. There have been serious tanker disasters, of course. But I don’t remember serious off-shore drilling accidents, certainly not anyhting like what is taking plce in the gulf right now.
The current oil spill, or oil flood, is absolutely horrible. We don’t know how bad the environmental catastrophe will become; we are hoping for the best. Perhaps the damage will be less serious than it now appears, and maybe we will figure out how to ensure that this kind of problem does not occur in the future. Nevertheless, even if our greatest hopes are realized from this point on, new offshore drilling will be pushed back many years.
The economic fall-out will be severe – not today, but in the years to come as oil supplies dwindle. We will become more even more dependent on foreign oil that we would have been.
I have been strongly supportive of opening up more areas for drilling. It is only reasonable to acknowledge, however, that this changes everything.